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Men in Suits
  • Directors Institute

Avoid using these phrases in business meetings

What should you refrain from saying in a meeting?

The question may be annoying because it implies a long list of things to avoid. Meanwhile, you've undoubtedly read something recently urging open, honest participation in company meetings.

So, what's the deal? Where is the equilibrium?

In brief, it is the distinction between the issues you bring up and how you bring them up; a list of 'what not to say' addresses the latter. In other words, be free to express yourself, but be mindful of how you do it.



What should I refrain from saying in a meeting?


"That's not going to work."

You're undoubtedly aware of why this is a no-go. It's always negative, and it creates strife.

In three words, a notion has been dismissed, maybe without thought, and all opportunity for discussion has been swept away.

Instead, say something like "let's look at that" or something similar. Even if you have reservations about an idea, it is probably worth investigating more.


"It isn't relevant right now."

This is especially problematic when groups or committees gather together since everyone has different priorities.

When they discuss and update, the last thing you want to do is imply that one of their primary aims is unimportant.


"That's not my responsibility."

If you say that in reaction to a potential new task, you show that you don't want to be a part of the work or your team. This is risky, especially as you become older.

If you say that after something goes wrong, such as "that wasn't my job," you show carelessness and a desire to watch colleagues fail rather than making any effort to help.

It's fine if you simply cannot perform a new assignment due to workload and capacity; but, you can communicate this in other ways.


"You should've..."

The need to say something frequently arises after something goes wrong, but when anything goes wrong, do not point fingers.

Take the initiative. Address the problem first, then have a debrief, during which you can use more neutral language like "it might work better to do X next time".


"I'll give it a shot."

This makes for wonderful movie dialogue but not for business meetings.

"I'll try" indicates that you are still unsure about what you are being asked to do. The easiest approach to resolve these concerns is to attend a meeting, which, guess what, you're currently attending!

Don't be scared to express your concerns to your coworkers. By doing so, you're communicating and soliciting feedback on how to overcome them.


"This is how we've always done it."

This is neither a debate winner nor a good point.

If you believe a procedure or product is a good concept, you should be able to back it up with documented benefits outweighing negatives, not simply because it is simple and familiar.

Separately, when someone doubts a long-established system, you may often use the same term as a gut reaction.

If this happens, don't panic, but don't allow the opportunity to pass you by. Inquire as to why your system operates in this manner and whether improvements could enhance it.


"With the utmost respect."

Avoid, avoid, avoid. Avoid.

It's not because of the phrase itself; it's because what follows is likely to be personal or offensive, even if it's couched in polite-sounding language.

Personal or offensive language is not required in business discussions.

The word has grown so synonymous with outright negativity that it rarely, if ever, has positive consequences. Therefore, with all due respect, if you believe it's a decent opening to a viewpoint you're about to convey, it probably isn't.


"What shall we talk about today?"

This is a red flag that you and your team have not done appropriate preparation, such as agenda setting and taking minutes.


"In my previous firm..."

Take care with this one:

It can often indicate arrogance, stubbornness, ego, and a refusal to adjust to your new business culture.

Yet, it may be relevant at times. Perhaps you landed your current position because of your previous triumphs; perhaps you have sound advice to pass on. Remember, your coworkers can only hear this sentence so many times before they get tired of it.


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